Learning Yoga and Mindfulness Through Play

Kids learn differently than adults. This is a researched and accepted truth among scholars and a known fact among parents. The way a young child runs around a playground playing superheroes or crawls in the dirt as a ladybug highlights the natural and constant way in which kids take in and process the world around them. They learn by watching and absorbing, and they teach themselves and each other through imitation and play. Kids are drawn to play, fun, movement, and exploration.

However, this instinctual draw isn’t as simple as it appears on the surface. The depth and importance of what is actually happening in the brain of a child as he dresses up and runs around the yard may be more profound than we realize. Playing seems like a simple notion, but it holds more meaning than it looks. It teaches kids to make sense of the complicated world around them and allows them to develop socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically.

It’s often tempting to sideline or move past this aspect of kids development to teach them to function in our more structured and rule-based society. However, research continues to support, and educators continue to agree, that play cannot be ignored. This critical part of childhood must be more than accepted, it must be embraced.

Play and fun are essential in all aspects of teaching kids.

Introducing kids to the learned skills of mindfulness, yoga, calming techniques, and gratitude are no exception. If we want to reach kids in the most developmentally appropriate and effective way, we need to let them have fun and have fun alongside them!

The Science Behind Play Based Learning

A great deal of research on the importance of play has been conducted by psychologists and scientist for over a century. Their conclusions are the same: play-based learning has an incredible impact on children’s development.1  

Kids learn best when they are having fun.

One of the earliest and most well-known psychologist to study children’s cognitive development was Jean Piaget. Piaget concluded that play was essential to the development of intelligence in children. His theory argues that through play, children make sense of their world, practicing skills and trying out new information, thus better equipping them for the future.1 Supporting these theories is Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a child development expert at Temple University. She argues that when kids are mentally active and engaged, social, and can make meaningful connections to their lives, they are at their highest potential for learning. In other words, children learn best through playing.3

“Not only is it an incredible source of fun and socialization, but the play is also crucial to children’s learning and development. Their intellectual, physical, and social-emotional abilities emerge and are strengthened through play,” says Katie Chiavarone, author of The Undeniable Power of Play: 101 Tips, Activities and Play-Based Learning Strategies to Engage Your Child. “It is in the context of play that children test out new knowledge and theories. They reenact experiences to solidify understanding. And it is where children first learn and express symbolic thought, a necessary precursor to literacy. Play is the earliest form of storytelling. And, it is how children learn how to negotiate with peers, problem-solve, and improvise.”3

The value and positive impact of play have been studied in the field of neuroscience as well. Various studies have been conducted about how teachers and educators can best engage young kids and enhance their ability to take in and apply new information. Neuroscientists found that play activates the brain in a way that memorization or traditional classroom teaching methods simply can’t. It was found that play is not only helpful to young minds in taking in new information, but it is also a vital aspect of brain development.3

“In children’s brains, when they’re playing, they’re doing the deepest learning. We know that through Piaget, Vygotsky, and all those good theorists who talk about the importance of play with young children. The different levels of learning that they’re able to get into during play is a lot deeper than pulling out a worksheet and having them fill in bubbles and that sort of thing.” – Lauren Harness, MEd. 3

Learning Mindfulness and Yoga through Play

These concepts are essential to understand because if we teach kids in the way they learn best, we create a more in-depth learning experience that allows them to remember, internalize and apply the knowledge later in life. This is a crucial concept for helping kids learn the skills of mindfulness and positive coping.


If we want kids to be able to take in and use these essential skills in real life, teaching through fun and play isn’t a bonus, its a requirement.

The intention of introducing kids to mindfulness is to equip them with the vital skills of self-regulation, calming, self-awareness, stress reduction, gratitude, peace, and joy (just to name a few). Being purposeful about how these concepts are introduced is critical in the long term impact they have.

In fact, one study done by Harvard Medical School showed that making the very act of mindfulness into a game had a significant effect on how kids internalized and were impacted by the teaching. In the 20 week study, which looked at the impact of game playing as a form of teaching mindfulness vs. traditional methods, it was found that the group who used game playing showed significant improvement in executive function skills (the group of skills responsible for paying attention, organizing, planning, staying focused on tasks, regulating emotions, and self-monitoring). The other groups showed no improvement in these skills. The study made it clear that the effectiveness of an intervention is based on more than the information being taught, but rather on the quality of how it is presented.2

Making yoga and mindfulness fun and exciting for young kids has a larger purpose than merely increasing engagement. It actually increases the ability of a child to internalize the activity and apply it later in life. Learning through play is the most successful way to teach kids vital lessons and enrich learning. Incorporating fun, silliness and play into mindfulness practices and yoga for kids helps them make sense of their world and gives them tools and a framework for practicing these skills. It also keeps them coming back over and over again!

Making Yoga and Mindfulness Fun

How do we add play and fun into the traditionally serious practices of yoga and mindfulness? We adapt every method to make it child-centered by weaving stories, games, make-believe, pretend and role play into structured movement and deliberate mind practice. We make considerable changes to traditional methods with the sole purpose of making it more fun, silly and meaningful. We laugh, sing, blow bubbles, color, tell stories and pretend we are animals, airplanes and flowers. We come into the child’s world and create an environment in which they learn best. We let kids be kids.

No matter what happens during the practice, if the child walks away having had fun, it was a success

No matter what happens during the practice, if the child walks away having had fun, it was a success.

Knowing and honoring how kids learn gives caregivers the freedom to let go of expectations and just have fun while teaching their kids.

Having fun is one of the biggest priorities in introducing kids to yoga and mindfulness. No matter what happens during the practice, if the child walks away having had fun, it was a success, even if this means ditching the practice altogether for a quick game of tag or peek-a-boo. Fun, laughter, pretending and silliness is essential in every aspect of teaching kids, and especially in teaching yoga and mindfulness.  

“When you are engaging in play, which in and of itself is a symbolic metaphor in its truest form, whole parts of your brain are engaged, developing crucial connections that lead to a positive development of the child,” says Clair Mellenthin, author of Play Therapy: Engaging & Powerful Techniques for the Treatment of Childhood Disorders.3

At Yogamentary, we adapt every exercise and practice with play and fun as a top priority. Everything we create is child-centered and based on the research of how kids learn best through play. We encourage imagination, silliness, laughter, and exploration.

To see our complete collection of age-appropriate guided meditations, yoga videos, and breathing exercises, go to yogamentary.com

References

  1. Hamid, K. (2018, May). The psychological theories behind learning through play. Retrieved from https://www.pentagonplay.co.uk/news-and-info/psychology-learning-through-play
  2. Learning through play. Retrieved from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/innovation-application/innovation-in-action/learning-through-play/
  3. The importance of play-based learning. (2018, September). Retrieved from https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/classroom-resources/play-based-learning/

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